More often than not, Romeo and Juliet is staged with an emphasis on youthful romance, as if directors are still under the influence of Franco Zeffirelli's famous film three decades after its release. But Romeo and Juliet is also the story of the bloody rivalry between two families, in a society where violence is never far from the surface. Still, it must have been a shock when director Daniel Sullivan, in preparing a new production of the classic for the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, told his designers to check out the work of another Italian film director--Pier Paolo Pasolini, responsible for such scabrous epics as Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
"Dan said to go see The Decameron," says LD Peter Maradudin of Pasolini's film of Boccaccio's bawdy epic, notable for its fetid vision of Renaissance Italy. "He wanted me to see it because almost nobody in the film is beautiful, they all had bad teeth--it was really nasty, brutal stuff." Taking a cue from Pasolini, "Everything was done to make Romeo and Juliet as unromantic as possible." In other words, Sullivan wanted audiences to see Renaissance Italy as it must have been--a world that, for all its scholarship and artistic achievement, was also full of poverty, filth, and disease. As a result, Ralph Funicello's set design, says Maradudin, "had a lot of mud and dirt, with mist rising from the trenches."
The LD himself worked well with Sullivan and Funicello to create a design that complemented their ideas. "What's great about Dan's approach is that it's as much about the angle of the light coming into the space as anything else. He didn't say, I need more frontlight. He was more likely to say, I want it much more shadowy, more directional, more contrasted."
Of course, the designer also notes, his angles were somewhat limited. Funicello's setting had two levels, with much of the action taking place "in the bowels of the set. A lot of the time, I could only get a position that was head-high or floor-mounted." He adds that the challenge had a happy result: "Ralph forced me, through the nature of the space, to create the kind of light that Dan enjoys seeing." The LD adds that he worked with the set designer to create as many on-set positions as possible, so he placed "a number of set-mounted units, hidden behind boxes and pilings."
In general, Maradudin's design followed a day-into-night throughline, with darkness falling as the action rushes towards tragedy: "In the play," he notes, "it's summer in Verona. They talk about the heat. So a lot of the early scenes take place with a relentless sunlight coming down. As the play progresses, more and more of it takes place at night. When we get to Mantua, where Romeo buys the potion to kill himself, Dan wanted almost no light onstage. In fact, a couple of scenes were done by torchlight, which was very effective." The play's final scene, in Juliet's tomb, was largely angled from below, with light placed in each grave. Also, in keeping with the production's heat-and-dust atmosphere, Maradudin deployed a number of Rosco foggers, along with a Le Maitre hazer. "This is a smoky, dirty production," he says. "It always looked like someone was roasting a dead cat around the corner."
Maradudin has designed many times at the Old Globe but in one important respect the experience was very different this time: The theatre recently replaced much of its lighting inventory with Source Four units from Electronic Theatre Controls. "The light output from the Source Fours was fantastic," he says. The throw distances in the Festival Theatre are about 80' (24m); with the previous lighting inventory, he was unable to achieve different looks with different light levels. "In the past, I had them at full or not at all. But with the Source Fours, if you have them at 50%, you can tell the difference, you have places to go. Within my relatively tight palette, if you set the Source Fours at 30%, it looks like candlelight; set them at full and you get sunlight like nobody's business."
Overall, he says, "The front-of-house units were 10-degree Source Fours, and the rest of the plot used Source Four PARs. From 80' away, if you put in a very narrow spot lens, they're fantastic, easy to focus. It's the perfect unit for outdoors."
There were other technical issues, however. The show was run on a Strand Lightpalette 3 and, Maradudin says, "on the third night of tech, one of the discs got corrupted and corrupted the whole console. They had to 'deep-flush' the board, strip everything out, and reload the software. So we lost a day of tech. They retrieved about two-thirds of the show; I had to rewrite the final third from memory. It worked to my advantage, actually. I knew the show so well by that point that when I rewrote it I was able to improve on my original work."
In fact, Maradudin goes out of his way to praise all his collaborators, including costume designer Robert Morgan, sound designer Jeff Ladman, and composer David Van Tieghem, whose percussive score "energized the action--there was drumming, foot-stomping, hand-clapping. It was very primal." So much so, in fact, that the LD says it affected his cueing; "He definitely delineated a rhythm and you have to go with that." All the elements "came together beautifully" to create a vividly realized world where love and violence were intertwined to the death.